Why You Should Give Your People Control Over Change

By Heather Campbell

I know of a company which moved offices a couple of years ago. The leaders all agreed the move made sense, and it was going to be better for the employees too — in every way except one.

The new office was on a different railway line to the old one. It was probably more convenient for some, but many staff members were now facing a longer commute and a change of trains.

Instead of ignoring the issue, the company asked employees what they thought could be done to help. Suggestions came thick and fast — everything from having a minibus pick people up from the station on the other line, to setting up cycle-to-work and car-sharing schemes.

Once people were settled in to the new office, there wasn’t much interest in the idea of a bus, but the other two schemes were still running last I heard. And needless to say, the move was a great success.

It can take courage to admit there’s a problem or a downside to change. Leaders’ instincts are usually to talk up the good news, and sweep the bad under the carpet. They also usually want to announce change as a ‘done deal’, with all aspects wrapped up.

But if you want to get people engaged in change, you should give them ownership of aspects of that change. That means asking them to contribute their own ideas about how the change should work, listening to them, and implementing their suggestions.

You should do so as early as possible in the process, so that they have plenty of time to give their input, and to get used to the idea that the change is really happening.

The more control people have over the change they are going through, the more empowered they feel. It becomes less something that is done ‘to’ them, whether they agree with it or not, and more something they’re all going through together.

There’s another part to this, though.

Many companies acknowledge the wisdom of this sort of policy. But then, when it comes down to it, they’ll only allow people control over areas they think are ‘safe’ and without real consequence.

Paying lip service to the idea of giving employees ownership of change is a mistake. People want control over issues that matter to them, not over irrelevancies.

Your organisation needs to trust its employees.

For HR, this comes down once again to understanding what areas are really important to people. Once you identify these areas, you can also anticipate what might be the real barriers to change, and find ways of managing them.

If you trust your people — even when it comes to introducing important change — you’ll be repaid by a happier, more productive workforce. And who knows, you might get some great ideas into the bargain!

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